Lord Liddle: My Lords, I express support for the principle of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. The combined authorities need more independent power to raise money for good local

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1627

projects and I accept that we have to break away from the kind of Treasury stranglehold, as it were, that operates in this area. I would be interested to see how far the DCLG and its excellent Ministers, who are very committed to devolution, are getting on with the Treasury on this question. We look forward to the response on that. However, there are two problems, which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, will have thought of. The question is what the answers are—they may be in the response to the proposal.

First, there is the question of risk if something goes badly wrong. Not only would that be a failure for the combined authority that had sponsored the proposal but it would result in severe losses for local savers. Is there any way of spreading the risk and/or any form of insurance that could maybe bring the big institutions in to bear some of the risk? I am not a finance person, but the noble Baroness is and I am sure she will have thought about this.

Secondly, with a proposal of this kind you need to ask how the market in these bonds would operate. After all, people might have enough money to invest £10,000 or something in the future of their city—I could imagine people being very happy to do that—but their personal circumstances can change. They might want to be able to dispose of that bond. How would a secondary market operate in something that had initially been limited to residents of the area? However, in principle, this is exactly the kind of radical thinking that we need to revive municipalism.

6 pm

Baroness Wheatcroft: To answer the noble Lord, insurance is always available for anything—at a price, of course—and I have no doubt that insurance could be provided for these bonds. As for a market in the bonds, there is always someone prepared to make a market.

Baroness Janke (LD): My Lords, I, too, welcome this amendment. As a former leader of Bristol City Council I tried to look into this possibility. As the noble Baroness said, there is always a great deal of local ambition to achieve projects within the area for which, in straitened times, it is often difficult to raise funding. At the moment, I can think of the completion of the Colston Hall building—a concert hall in Bristol—for which we are trying to raise money. That would also be a project that local people would be very proud to see achieved.

When I made investigations, I found that local finance institutions welcomed this idea. I also found that local charities felt that it would be a really good way to invest funds within the local area rather than have local funds benefit central institutions. I welcome the idea as well because, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, this is a little bit more radical than a lot of the debate, which has been about concentrations of power. I welcome the idea of world-class cities and would like to see our cities at the heart of vibrant local economies. I hope that later in the Bill we can talk a bit more about some of the powers that might be made available to the combined authorities so that they can be at the centre of their local economies and exploit

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1628

the potential that we have seen, as shown through various institutions such as Core Cities and Centre for Cities. There is great potential for economic growth.

I welcome this amendment and hope that the Government accept it. I hope that the idea may be explored further in due course.

Lord Moynihan (Con): My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft and to which I added my name for reasons anticipated by a number of my noble friends already in this debate.

As stated at Second Reading, I support the Bill but with an element of caution. Memories of the 1980s are still strong in the minds of some of your Lordships, as was the need at that time to address the profligacy of some local politicians by bringing powers and—with them—spending decisions back to Westminster and Whitehall. Now, some 30 years on, we consider providing potentially increased responsibilities to new combined authorities and designating their chairs as mayors. Today, we seek to provide them with a platform—a very public one—for potentially wide-ranging yet still unspecified powers. There is always a danger, not least evident recently in Scotland, that with devolved powers but without some element of financial accountability the finger will be pointed at Westminster for failing to recognise the financial consequences of a devolution of functions by the same electorates we seek to empower. The politics of such a potent mix can be far-reaching.

One way the Minister can benefit from the lessons of history is to consider ways of meeting the challenge whereby our determination to empower elected communities must be met by trusting those same electorates and their representatives with at least some additional responsibilities for raising the finances required to exercise the powers with which they are entrusted. I hope that today the Minister will be able to address this issue and in so doing agree that one of the potential functions that could benefit from municipal bonds, as in the United States, could be the populist and much-needed sport and recreation facilities.

Since the Government in their legislative programme rely heavily on key manifesto commitments, the Minister would simultaneously earn acclamation and plaudits from her colleagues by implementing the sports legacy from London 2012, which was in the Conservative Party manifesto. That legacy called for: new facilities outside London; a youth and community sports strategy designed to inspire a generation to develop a sporting habit for life, and not just in London, the city that hosted the Olympic Games, but throughout the United Kingdom; increased participation at all levels; and state-of-the-art sport and recreation facilities. This area has been very London-centric and investment in our great cities to achieve these objectives can be accomplished by providing a real voice for the proposed combined authorities over the current, centrally controlled spend on sport and recreation, including the decisions currently made for the whole country by Sport England in London.

This is where the amendment of my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft could add an important and very clearly defined financing vehicle to the current precept

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1629

mechanism already enshrined in legislation. If the Minister felt that the powers in the proposed amendment go too far, municipal bonds could even be restricted specifically for this purpose as a sort of test case for the combined authorities. Whichever route is taken, we need to create the nexus between the management oversight for functions and financial responsibility and accountability to the local electorates who will be the principal beneficiaries. It is that objective that ultimately will be delivered. I predict that the Bill before us is a stepping stone on that journey. This proposal by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft for municipal bonds is a key and important step in that direction.

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. I listened carefully to some of the ideas about what such a bond might be used for and hope that there would not be a narrow set of functions and services for which this kind of fundraising could be used. To some extent I am following up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. In particular, some of the needs of children and young people in many of these areas require a lot more support than they currently get. Even some health facilities might be the kind of thing, particularly on the preventative health side, that these bonds could be used for. It is very important that the Government give serious attention to this and also to using these bonds to leverage other funding sources for some of the projects that might be available. I hope that, if we go down this path, the uses to which these bonds might be put would be not drawn narrowly but spread over all the functions devolved to a combined authority.

Lord True (Con): My Lords, I have not so far participated in this Committee and apologise to the House for that. I have just not been able to be here either for Second Reading or the first day of Committee. I declare an interest as leader of a London borough. Actually, I am rather pleased that London does not feature in the Bill in respect of the potential ideas for centralising power in London away from the boroughs. I hope we will not see any of that stuff come forward in another place at a later stage without any opportunity for debating it in your Lordships’ House. I am not going to go into the broader subjects, but I have read the debates very carefully and I find it dangerously easy to restrain my enthusiasm for imposing models on people. Very important points have been raised so far in this Committee.

I shall confine myself to this amendment, as is proper. I am not part of the little posse that came in to support my noble friend’s amendment, but I am glad to see that they are here. My own authority has been involved in discussions with the LGA proposals to look towards wider bond issues. But there are practical issues that need to be addressed, particularly in the difficult areas of things we all love and are potentially enthusiastic about, whether it is music or sport. It can be easy sometimes for that enthusiasm to run away a little. I can think of a number of local authorities not too far distant from my own where enthusiasm for the theatre has ended up with them having to underwrite substantial costs. So we need to proceed in this area with caution, but I hope that my noble friend will be

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1630

able to respond positively, because caution is one thing and “no” is another. It should be possible to unleash the enthusiasm of local people. Do we not all believe in localism, as my noble friends have argued? Perhaps when she replies, my noble friend might offer to have discussions with my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft and others and representatives of local authorities and see whether, in the course of the passage of the legislation, she will give a positive commitment to considering this creative and interesting idea, albeit with corners that need to be probed—although perhaps not as many as some other aspects of the Bill. It is a very good and welcome thing that my noble friend has brought this forward.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In one sense, one very much welcomes the proposal of powers that we used to have rather more freely, in recourse to raising bonds through the municipal public works board. I myself used to buy bonds from Derby and all the rest of it, and people put them to appropriate use for their savings. I am certainly not opposed to the principle at all, but I am not clear on something—and perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, can help me on this point. The mayor will have a levy over and beyond, presumably, the council tax precept run by the combined authority. What powers the mayor will have vis-à-vis the combined authority may differ with each bespoke arrangement. What does the noble Baroness expect to be funded by a bond as opposed to a levy? The levy clearly falls on all, and all have access to those services, whereas a bond would be a voluntary subscription for an additional service which, none the less, would be enjoyed by all but possibly at a fee to fund the additional interest rate over and beyond the levy. I am slightly confused about how those two things would run in parallel. Clearly, in the past what would happen is that Derby would decide to seek £10 million through a loan on capital expenditure and fund it through the interest payments through the levy on it. In other words, part of the revenue expenditure would go to fund that bond. How does the noble Baroness envisage that working in this new financial structure?

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: On a similar point, what has been lacking in recent years with regard to capital funding and borrowing is the difficulty for local authorities to have the freedom to borrow and, because of that, a disconnect between identifying what it is they want to invest in, enthusing people for that and saying that they will back it with the capability of borrowing. That is the kind of thing that local authorities are examining. The question is whether this proposal would be more likely to generate enthusiasm and how it would fit in to the financing and the cost of the borrowing.

The amendment relates to specific projects, and it is highly likely, to judge from the enthusiastic speeches, that most of those projects will not cover their costs. There will be deficits; the only way in which the bonds will be sellable is if they are underwritten by the local authorities, which means the taxpayers. If one sets aside the initial enthusiasm, this can be a reality only if the taxpayer underwrites the bond. I hope that that is fair to say; it may not be the case, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, may say so. If the bond was tied to a specific project whose finances meant

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1631

that the bond stood or fell on those financial outcomes, it is highly likely that a number of those would fail. If they did not fail, that means it would have been perfectly easy to fund them, because they are profit making, and they did not need to go for this scheme. It would help me in understanding not the appeal but the practicality of this proposal, if I could understand the practicality of persuading the Treasury—among other things—that this would not ultimately rest on underwriting by the mayor. It would be the mayor, not the combined authority, who would be saying, “I’m going to guarantee that these bonds will be repaid however the projects perform”. It would be helpful to me to understand that, should the House in due course be moved to consider this issue.

6.15 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, before discussing Amendment 35, perhaps first I could speak briefly to Amendments 34 and 36 in the name of my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, who cannot speak to them himself. They are self-explanatory, in that Amendment 34 makes reference to a,

“local authority member of a combined authority”,


“responsibility for finance and resource management”.

Amendment 36 calls for the Bill to specify,

“the number of local authority members within a combined authority area who can veto the draft budget”.

We would happily support each of those amendments.

The Bill enables a power of veto over the mayor’s budget, and Amendment 35 would enable the combined authority also to change that budget in circumstances that would clearly need to be spelt out in the order. That opportunity seems to be provided for in the Manchester agreement. The Bill itself makes reference to changing the budget, but it implies that that is as a result of the initial scrutiny process, not following on from the combined authority’s approval or otherwise of the draft budget. Could the Minister confirm that?

Just to recap, the Bill talks about a mayor preparing a budget; a draft to be scrutinised by other members of the combined authority and the committee, dealt with in Schedule 5A; the making of changes to the draft as a result of the scrutiny—presumably with the approval of the mayor; and the approval of the draft by a combined authority, including a power to veto the draft circumstances specified in the order and the consequences of such a veto. Our amendment proposes simply that we have not only a right to veto but a right to change the budget. There would need to be a threshold of those supporting that proposition, which is again the case in Manchester. A veto is a power, and it can be quite a weak power in certain circumstances. You could simply end up with a ping-pong type arrangement between the mayor and the other members of the combined authority, which would be unfortunate and inconsistent with the effective operation of a combined authority.

We support the thrust of Amendment 33. As some noble Lords have touched on, it raises a number of issues that need clarification. In part, those of us who

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1632

can remember municipal bonds support it with a sense of nostalgia. I am sorry to hear that my noble friend did not buy any Luton bonds in her previous investment, but perhaps next time. I am interested to understand quite how this will work when it will be available only to residents of an area. I think that that is easily dealt with at the point at which it is issued, but what happens thereafter? As my noble friend Lord Liddle said, whether that has an impact on marketability is an important issue.

As I understand the Bill as it stands, the Secretary of State can by order enable an authority to borrow for specified functions, provided that it has the consent of the constituent councils, but I do not think that that extends to mayoral functions. That could be changed, but we would like better to understand how this all fits together and how the total funding and borrowing opportunities of the combined authority sit with the existing position of those separate authorities. How does that impact on prudential borrowing and, therefore, the scope for the type of bond the Minister is talking about?

We can certainly see the benefit of raising funds for specific projects but, even if you can borrow for mayoral functions within a combined authority, it seems to me that you do not want that borrowing power to drive the functions the mayor gets; that is the wrong way round. You have to see what functions the mayor would have under these arrangements and see how they should be financed.

My understanding is that if there were associated costs—if my noble friend is right and this measure did not wash its face in all circumstances, particularly on infrastructure projects where there can be long lead times and not necessarily early returns—those would be picked up and met by a precept, not a levy, on the constituent authorities. Given the constraints that central government have hitherto imposed on increases in precepts, it could unwittingly impact on all that.

This measure needs to be unpicked so that we can better understand it. It seems to be a very helpful suggestion, and you can see the benefits that could flow from it, but it would need to sit together with the intended funding arrangements or the likely opportunities for the combined authority as a whole, quite apart from the wider issue of fiscal devolution, which we will come to in subsequent amendments, probably on Monday. We are on the side of those who would like to make this work, but it needs to fit with what we have before us.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it is refreshing to hear innovative ideas coming from your Lordships’ House. I commend my noble friends Lady Wheatcroft and Lord Moynihan on some of the suggestions that they have put forward. Amendment 33 seeks to amend new Section 107F of the 2009 Act to allow the Secretary of State by order to enable the mayor to raise funds for the carrying out of specified development projects, by the issue of bonds to be made available only to those residents within the combined authority area. I was interested to hear about the experiences of the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, in Bristol. As I have said, the intentions behind the amendment are to be commended. The Secretary of

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1633

State can by order confer a power on a mayoral combined authority to borrow. The mayor individually cannot borrow because, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, he or she is not a corporate body. Borrowing by a combined authority where it is given the powers to borrow is secured on the revenue that that authority will receive, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, pointed out. Accordingly, any borrowing by a combined authority will be under the same prudential borrowing regime that applies to local authorities. This means that the level of borrowing must reflect the level of its likely reserves.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, asked what could be funded by bonds. In any case it would be a matter for the discussions leading to the bespoke devolution deal as to what might, in the art of the possible, be borrowed. As I have said, any borrowing must conform to the principles of prudential borrowing, which apply to all borrowing by local authorities.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan asked about the functions to benefit by municipal bonds. The functions that might be supported by investment and funded by prudential borrowing, which could be in the form of bonds, are a matter for the conversations with that area which lead to its bespoke devolution deal. As my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft said, this is an enabling Bill. Clause 8(3) allows the Secretary of State to specify which functions of a combined authority may come within the scope of borrowing powers given by the Local Government Act 2003. The sources of borrowing available to combined authorities include issuing bonds as well as taking out loans. The devolution deal will determine which functions the combined authority can borrow for. Decisions over whom an authority obtains their financing from are a matter for the authority.

Amendments 34 to 36 seek to alter the powers of the Secretary of State to provide for scrutiny of the mayor’s draft budget. Amendment 34 would insert a new Section 107F(3)(c), which would allow the Secretary of State by order to make provision to appoint a local authority member of a combined authority to have responsibility for finance and resource management. In effect, were such provision made, it would prescribe that there must be a member of the mayoral combined authority who had finance responsibilities, and that the member with these responsibilities would be a councillor from one of the constituent councils. It is rightly the mayor who should decide to whom he or she wishes to delegate his or her responsibilities, and this includes responsibilities for finance. To return to a point that I made earlier, it is consistent with local authorities operating their cabinet arrangements at present, with the mayor deciding which member of his cabinet should hold certain portfolios with certain responsibilities. We are clear that this should also be the case for metro mayors. For mayoral governance to be effective, the mayor must have discretion to assign portfolios and delegate responsibilities to enable the effective delivery of their promises to their electorate.

I understand that the intention of this amendment may be to place checks and balances on the mayor’s powers. There is of course a chief finance officer for the combined authority, also known as a Section 151 officer, whose role is to ensure compliance with all

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1634

statutory requirements for accounting and internal audit and to manage the authority’s resources. The chief finance officer is under a duty to make a public report if they consider that there is, or is likely to be, any item of unlawful expenditure. An additional proscription on the creation and assigning of member portfolios is an unnecessary check or balance, and risks frustrating the exercise of the mayor’s functions.

Amendments 35 and 36 seek to provide additional checks and balances on the approval of the mayor’s draft budget. Amendment 36 would insert a power for the Secretary of State to provide for a specific number of local authority members within a combined authority area to be able to veto the mayor’s draft budget. The Bill as it stands allows for the Secretary of State by order to make provision about the preparation of the mayor’s annual budget which, in particular, may provide for the constituent council members of the combined authority to scrutinise the draft budget, to make changes to it and to have a power of veto. The circumstances in which a veto may be used, and the consequences of any such veto, would be proposed locally and provided for in the order creating the mayoral combined authority. The Bill also allows for the overview and scrutiny committee, a politically balanced committee made up of councillors from the constituent authorities, to scrutinise the draft budget and recommend changes to it.

6.30 pm

To be clear, there is already provision to allow for the check of the constituent councils vetoing the draft budget. If the suggestion is that all the councillors of the constituent councils should have a role in setting the mayor’s budget, in addition to any role they may have on the overview and scrutiny committee, statute does not provide for a vote to be given in an order to anyone who is not a member of the combined authority.

Amendment 35 seeks to amend new Section 107F(4)(d) of the 2009 Act to allow the Secretary of State, by order, to give the members of the combined authority the power to change the mayor’s draft budget. I agree that it is entirely appropriate that the combined authority has a power to amend the draft budget, and I am happy to clarify that this is the Government’s intention in new Section 107F(4)(c). As the Bill stands, new Section 107F(4)(c) allows the Secretary of State by order to make provision for the members of the combined authority to change the draft mayoral budget, other than the police budget, as a result of their scrutiny.

It will be for each authority, in discussion with the Government, to decide what form of scrutiny of the mayor’s budget would be most appropriate. For example, in Greater Manchester—I cannot remember whether it was the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, or the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who asked about this—it was proposed by the area that the combined authority will examine the mayor’s spending plans and be able to amend the plans if two-thirds of the members agree to do so. This arrangement is included in the Greater Manchester devolution agreement.

I hope I have adequately explained that the intended effect of these amendments is already provided for in the Bill, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1635

Baroness Wheatcroft: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her detailed response, which was not entirely encouraging. I thank all those who spoke in support of my amendment. In answer to the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis—“Why not precept?” and “How would specific schemes be chosen?”—the point of the amendment is that the precept falls on all, no matter how able they are to afford it, whereas the bonds that I am mooting would enable those who have the money to invest in a local community to do so for the benefit of all.

As for the qualms voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, about where the penny would drop if there were not enough pennies, every scheme would have to be looked at extremely carefully. They would all have to be budgeted. I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lord about how many such schemes would fail. The point about community building is that very often you can get the community involved, so one would anticipate—looking through those rose-tinted spectacles that I do not usually wear—plenty of volunteers to organise sports facilities, youth clubs and so on, and that running costs could be covered by letting out a hall or a sports field. I agree that the sums would have to be done carefully, and as a backdrop one would be looking at insurance.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Will the noble Baroness clarify whether we are talking about simply a positive mechanism to raise funding, or a mechanism to expand the total borrowing capacity that the combined authority might have?

Baroness Wheatcroft: I gather from the Minister that the capacity to expand borrowing would not be there, so this would just be a different way of raising money, but it would be a way of involving the local community far more. As I understand it, the Bill is aimed at building local communities and pushing power to the people. I accept that this is not without qualms. There are questions to be asked—noble Lords have raised them—but I was delighted with the support for the general direction of travel, which is after all in line with our wish to devolve more power to the community and to build those communities. I hope that there may be scope for the Minister to spend some time working with me and others who support the general drift of this amendment to try to come up with something that we might bring back at a later stage.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: From the noble Baroness’s response to the Minister’s point about borrowing capacity, I am still not clear whether she expects this ability to raise what would otherwise be capital expenditure to add to the PSBR.

Baroness Wheatcroft: There are clearly issues to be worked out. I am very flexible about this. It is the principle of getting local people involved in funding local facilities that I really want to pursue, and I hope that I can have talks that will enable me to do that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Amendments 34 to 36 not moved.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1636

Clause 4 agreed.

Clause 5 agreed.

Clause 6: Other public authority functions

Amendment 36ZA

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

36ZA: Clause 6, page 8, line 2, after “property” insert “and”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, this is a small and narrow amendment. In fact, I contemplated whether I should move it at all, but as I have written it I might as well. It is intended as a probing amendment to understand the circumstances in which the schemes for transfer of property et cetera provided for in the Bill are contemplated and whether any are on the cards in the discussions that are taking place.

I was particularly prompted to think about this because of debates we had on the Localism Bill when some of its provisions were put in place, particularly Section 17, which is referred to and imported, in part, into the provisions of this Bill. Can the Minister tell us anything about experience to date on the operation of those provisions, which very much mirror what is in this Bill? There is a particular issue around the operation of the intent to comply with TUPE arrangements. Some of the provisions in Clause 17 touch upon this and refer to the fact that the order in relation to schemes can include circumstances where the same or similar effect as the TUPE regulations so far as those regulations do not apply in relation to the transfer are taken up. As a general point, is it the Government’s intention, in so far as they are a participant in this, that where TUPE regulations for some reason do not apply, they would seek to ensure that provisions with the same or similar effect as those regulations would be imported into any scheme of which they would be a party?

As an aside, when the Child Support Agency was being restructured, a key issue was not so much to do with entitlement to pensions, because there was access, but to do with loss of Civil Service status when somebody was going to go into an NDPB. That is an issue. I do not propose an amendment in relation to the Bill, but it was probably the big issue when we were talking about restructuring the Child Support Agency and it could rear its head in these circumstances. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, Amendments 36ZA and 36ZB seek to amend the provisions in the Bill that relate to the making of a scheme to transfer property, rights and liabilities from public authorities to combined authorities. The Bill specifies that where a function of a public authority is to be a function of a combined authority, the property, rights and liabilities of the public authority can be transferred to the combined authority. These amendments seek to change this by removing from the Bill the provisions that allow for the transfer of public authority liabilities.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1637

These amendments would prevent liabilities from being transferred from a public authority to a combined authority. Clause 6 enables the Secretary of State, by order, to confer on a combined authority powers exercised by a public authority. If functions are transferred, there may be some instances where assets, property, rights and liabilities should also be transferred to the combined authority in order for it to be able to exercise these functions.

As we have discussed, the whole Bill is enabling legislation. No combined authority will be forced to take on powers it does not wish to have, nor will a combined authority be forced to take on a public authority’s property, rights or liabilities. An existing combined authority must consent before such transfer can take place, and in the case of a new combined authority, the appropriate local authorities seeking to take on public body functions must have consented to the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the public authority. However, there may be times where such a transfer is necessary to give full effect to devolution deals.

Similar transfers of property, rights and liabilities from a local authority to a combined authority are already possible under Section 115 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Such transfers have already happened when establishing combined authorities; for example, when the West Yorkshire combined authority was established the integrated transport authority and the passenger transport executive were both closed, and their functions, assets, liabilities et cetera transferred to the combined authority. This provision purely mirrors the existing provisions by applying the same principles to transfers from public authorities.

The noble Lord asked about TUPE. The tradition and past practice is that when transferring functions within the public sector, TUPE applies, and it always has up to now. I hope that with this explanation the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. As I explained, the technical wording was simply to get a debate on this issue. I am grateful for that response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36ZA withdrawn.

Amendment 36ZB not moved.

Clause 6 agreed.

Amendment 36A

Moved by The Earl of Listowel

36A: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—

“Homelessness and housing need: review

(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall order a review of the advantages and disadvantages of placing a duty on combined authorities to reduce the numbers of homeless children and families in housing need in their area.

(2) The Secretary of State shall lay the report of the review under subsection (1) before both Houses of Parliament.”

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1638

The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, I will speak also to my Amendment 36B.

Amendment 36A introduces a review on homelessness and housing need, which would be established by the Secretary of State, to determine whether there should be targets for local authorities to reduce the numbers of homeless children and families in housing need in their area. Similarly, Amendment 36B asks the Secretary of State to order a review to look at the advantage of setting some sort of target for affordable housing in these areas and associated borrowing powers to facilitate that housing. I am thinking in particular of affordable housing for key workers, such as teachers and child and family social workers, who will have such an important role in turning around the lives of vulnerable families in housing need and of homeless children.

Before proceeding, I put on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for moving my earlier amendment this afternoon. I was hosting a reception for a charity which is 250 years old this year, and it was very good to be there, so I am most grateful to him.

The Minister and many of your Lordships will be aware that in this country we have a chronic problem of child homelessness and families in housing need, particularly in London and the south-east but also in other parts of the nation. The statistics from Shelter showed that over 90,000 children in England, Scotland and Wales were homeless—that is to say, living in temporary accommodation—and over 2,000 families were living in bed and breakfast accommodation last summer in England. That figure was rising in England but falling in Wales and Scotland. Therefore, it is getting worse at the moment but it has been a problem for many years, and it has not been properly addressed. These are not just statistics. The children who experience homelessness experience insecurity; they do not know where they will be living from one week to the next. That uncertainty is so disruptive to their lives, and they are often from vulnerable, problematic families.

6.45 pm

This morning I attended a conference in Canterbury on the education of looked-after children, and the main theme was the importance to such children and young people of a continuity of relationships. So often what our vulnerable families lack above all is that continuity of relationship, with a father or with a teacher: important figures in their life who can, over a period of time, take an interest in their welfare— and of course homelessness makes that much more difficult.

I understand also that to deal with this issue some authorities are having to uproot families and move them into other areas of England where there is more housing supply. Just when these families are getting the help they need to settle down, they can find that their support services are disrupted and they are placed in areas with many families like themselves. I hesitate to use the word “ghettos”, but it does not seem helpful to put these families with other families who are suffering similar problems. We want a much more mixed environment rather than concentrating troubled families in one place. Can the Minister therefore write to me to explain the policy of the Government around

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1639

these issues of families in housing need and homeless children? What does she think the Bill might do to address those problems?

On affordable housing, briefly, I will say again how much I warmly welcome the Government’s promise of 275,000 new affordable houses—I hope I have the figure right—by the end of these five years. That is very important indeed. I am thinking in particular of the need, as I said earlier, to have housing for teachers, social workers, prison officers and nurses where it is needed most. When I speak to teachers I hear about their long commutes into central London to do what they have to do. So often the temptation must be to move away once they have some experience to somewhere that is less costly and set up a family home there. We are talking about new powerhouses outside London, but if these sorts of problems are not already there they will develop as those powerhouses come into economic well-being. Therefore we need to think about how we are to provide decent housing for our teachers and social workers that will keep them near where they are needed. I understand that in the past, some local authorities would give a social worker a house at the beginning of their career, which would be a big incentive for that social worker to stay around.

Last night I heard Michael Spurr, who is the chief executive for the National Offender Management Service, talking about his work managing the prisons of this country. He has faced many challenges such as an increasing number of prisoners and reduced funding, but he seems to be doing an extraordinarily good job in those circumstances. I think we would all agree that he is a very admirable man. However, he is having a problem in London and the south-east in recruiting officers and filling vacancies. He did not mention it, but I am sure that one of the issues must be affordable housing in London and the south-east. I would appreciate any insight from the Minister on how she thinks the Bill might help in this area of affordable housing, particularly for key workers. On that point, I beg to move.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I support Amendments 36A and 36B, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I do so in particular because of new subsection (1)(b) proposed in Amendment 36B. This concerns the associated borrowing powers of local authorities, about which we had a broader debate a little while ago. It is part of the issue of the powers that combined authorities and local authorities in turn will have.

I hope that in replying to these two amendments the Minister will confirm that strategic housing policy will always be part of the remit of a combined authority. However, perhaps she would also be clear about what combined authorities will have responsibility for when there are existing statutory obligations upon a local authority—not least, for example, around homelessness. In urban regions, where a number of local authorities will combine under a single combined authority, there are areas where joint working can help and add value. In terms of housing policy, homelessness policy and affordable housing, there is absolutely no doubt that working across the boundaries of current local authorities will matter a great deal.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1640

We need to be clear—either now or at a later date if the Minister writes to the noble Earl—whether there is any plan to amend the existing powers of local authorities in relation to housing and whether the powers of the combined authority will relate to co-ordination or to leadership and policy formulation for the whole of the combined authority area. We will touch upon this when we come to Amendment 36F in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, but we are moving towards a need to be able to demonstrate clearly what the powers and responsibilities of combined authorities will be.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. As has been demonstrated by the noble Earl, it is really important that homeless children and their families have somewhere to live. If children are not able to have the safety and security of a home, they are not able to take advantage of education and therefore not able to make the best use of their lives. In terms of looked-after children and those in care, we have heard that a large proportion of these very disadvantaged children end up in the justice system in one way or another and are therefore doubly penalised for something which is not within their power to alter.

Therefore, I support the amendment on homelessness and housing need, and I obviously also support the supply of affordable housing, which is a real issue and not just in areas in the east and the north. While I am not expecting this Bill to solve all the ills of the housing market, I do not think that it should make them worse.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I can well see the point of having housing strategy determined at the level of the combined authorities that will potentially emerge as a result of this legislation. Personally, I rather regret that the previous Government abandoned the concept of regional housing policy. That led to what we might call the “Stevenage situation”, where a borough with very tight limits on its land was unable to secure the agreement, notwithstanding the alleged duty to co-operate under other legislation, from an adjoining authority in terms of housing. One can see that a regional—or, in this case, sub-regional—strategy is certainly a matter for a combined authority.

However, I have two problems. One is that we must not disconnect the operational workings of local authority housing and its third sector partners. Often, these partners are arm’s-length management organisations from the locality. My noble friend may say a little more about that when he responds from the Front Bench.

I am also somewhat concerned about the term “affordable housing”. Affordability is capable of very elastic definitions. Under the Government’s terms as it relates to housing provision, I understand that affordable rent, for example, is 80% of the current market rent. Current market rents in the private rented sector have, as we learn daily, been soaring over the last few years. Indeed, the number of private landlords has been soaring. I read—today, I think—that the proportion of housing now owned by private landlords is 20% of

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1641

the total housing stock, having more than doubled in the last few years. Of course, there are places in London where there are certainly a lot of them, but in many of the areas that we are talking about rents in the private sector have increased hugely.

To talk about 80% of the private rent level as being affordable is, to put it mildly, stretching a point where many people are concerned. Certainly the residents of the ward that I represent in the west end of Newcastle would find it very difficult to pay 80% of the rent in the private rented sector for the better housing that they would wish to occupy. All the talk about affordability in the recent election seemed to be about home ownership. Of course, we are all anxious to ensure that people have the opportunity to buy, if that is what they want, and to try to facilitate it in terms of making finance available. However, there are increasingly large numbers of people for whom that aspiration is at the moment—and, frankly, for the foreseeable future—unachievable.

The notion that here we might be looking at the provision of affordable housing on a combined authority level needs to be qualified. There needs to be an explanation of what we mean by that affordability. Of course, it is crucial that we refer to the provision of good-quality housing. I referred in previous debates to the space standards of the housing provided in this country. The space provided is much less than in most of the rest of Europe. Therefore, it may be affordable in financial terms but the new housing that is being built is not particularly good.

More particularly, my concern is with the people who will be unable to afford even well-designed, relatively modest premises on the basis of the current market and will need to rent. Unless we have a clearer definition, I cannot quite see how combined authorities will be able to influence that. If the noble Earl’s intentions are acknowledged by the Government and a review of the kind that he is asking for takes place, we may have some more realistic answers, but ultimately the delivery of affordable housing will vary even within a given area. By definition, we are talking about large populations. We are also talking about—I keep repeating this, I am afraid, but it is something that we have to deal with—an area in the north-east which has a lot of rural areas within it. There, again, the pressure is very high but it is rather different from that of the urban areas.

We must be careful not to exclude or substantially diminish the role of the local housing authorities, as they are currently constituted, in the context of a combined authority’s strategic plan. I acknowledge that there is a role there, but it should not be an exclusive role at the combined authority level. Local needs and what is affordable, for example, will vary significantly, not only within different parts of the housing sector but within geographical areas. It is a bit more complicated than at first sight might be thought to be the case. I am not saying that the noble Lord is not cognisant of that fact, but, necessarily, an amendment does not set out all the subtleties that one perhaps needs to get into.

I am interested to hear the Government’s thinking about affordable housing, their definitions and how that might relate to the concept of the combined authority and, in any event, to housing policy generally.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1642

7 pm

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, although I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for managing, with some finesse, to shoehorn housing into this debate on the cities Bill, I share some of the reservations of my noble friend Lord Beecham. In two-tier authorities and shire counties, one of the primary functions of district councils is the housing responsibility. Even if they have stock transferred their property to a housing association, as quite a high proportion has, the district council none the less remains responsible as the strategic authority, so to speak, in dealing with homelessness. That is complicated enough, and I think that the problem is going to get infinitely worse if the wretched housing association Bill progresses. That will fire an Exocet through our ability to meet housing need in localities, as we will lose not only the housing association stock but council housing stock to pay for the discounts—we will lose two rental properties to fund one discount and not one extra house will be built as a result. It will be completely disastrous, and I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will be fiercely engaged in that fight. I very much hope that he will be.

The problem is that, if this is the thinking of the noble Earl, I am not quite sure what distinction he is making between a combined authority and a unitary authority of three previous district councils. Housing is the main function. If this is where it is going, in alignment with the recommendations that will come with a combined authority for the development of the economy and so on, effectively, a unitary authority will be achieved in the name of adding more and more functions to the combined authorities, which are primarily about economic growth.

No one doubts that one responsibility of the combined authority will be to determine areas for housing growth, land development and land use. That is very different from taking on the responsibility for who gets what house due to local priorities. If that is taken away from the district council and given to the new combined authority, we will have effectively removed the responsibility for housing from a district council to a combined authority and would have to start inspecting houses of multiple occupation and all the rest of it to make it work. That would leave district councils virtually non-existent. That is my problem with Amendment 36A.

Although I am sure that Amendment 36B is well intentioned, my problem is with “affordable”. The research of my right honourable friend in the other place, John Healey, has shown that the two drivers of the housing benefit bill have been, frankly, the extension of the private rented sector, with its very high rents, and the displacement of social housing rents by affordable rents. Those two things alone are primarily responsible for the growth in housing benefit, neither of which adds a single property to the stock or houses a single additional person—they are displacement activities. All that is happening behind this amendment and may, I fear, be made worse by it. All the drivers will add to the welfare bill. The Government will then say that we must cut it by taking away the ability to make work pay and removing money from working tax credits because they are not willing to tackle the tax privileges

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1643

of private landlords who are charging market rents or the issue of affordable rents, which is, in turn, driving up housing benefit bills in the social rented sector.

An infinitely more complicated set of problems has been opened up by the noble Earl’s amendments. None of us would dispute the outcomes that he is seeking, but I do not think that he can get there through this route.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have considerable sympathy with the thinking behind both amendments from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. They touch upon one of the most serious issues that confront our society—our housing crisis— which must engage the action of central government and local authorities. It is also prescient, given concerns expressed in the press this morning about the figures for child poverty rising for the first time in a decade. We know that the lack of affordable housing is a key driver of homelessness and that homelessness inevitably sits at the centre of disadvantage and deprivation. The major influences on a child’s life—family income, effective parenting and a secure environment—are all directly or indirectly influenced by a family’s housing conditions.

The question posed by these two amendments is what the role of a combined authority should be in addressing our housing crisis and reducing homelessness. There certainly could and should be a role, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has shown the way. In its case, the elected mayor has control of a £300 million housing investment fund and powers over strategic planning, including the power to create a statutory spatial strategy for the CA area. There are somewhat convoluted arrangements for administration of the housing investment fund, but it has the prospect of delivering 10,000 to 15,000 homes over the period—a real contribution. Powers to create a spatial strategy for the area are particularly useful, given the demise, as my noble friend Lord Beecham said, of the former regional spatial strategies and the weakness of the duty to co-operate.

There are two issues, however, with the noble Earl’s amendments. Indeed, all noble Lords who have spoken today have, in one way or another, touched upon those issues. We should be mindful of the current requirement for local authorities to ensure that local plans meet the assessed needs for both affordable and market housing and that neighbourhood plans can supplement this. Further, important legislation is already in force that places a general duty on housing authorities to tackle homelessness, however difficult that is in the current circumstances. We would not wish to undermine these important responsibilities and local priorities, but it might well be appropriate to build on these requirements at an overarching strategic level. One way or another, those points were made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friends Lord Beecham and Lady Hollis.

Certainly the prospect of a combined authority having spatial planning powers across an area could be a considerable advantage in creating a coherent housing framework. However—I am sure that the Minister will make this point—the approach suggested is prescriptive. Doubtless it will be said that there is

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1644

nothing to prevent a combined authority seeking these powers by agreement, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government would not be shy of agreeing such arrangements.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, Amendments 36A and 36B would insert two new clauses into the Bill that place statutory duties on the Secretary of State to undertake reviews of the advantages and disadvantages of placing a duty on combined authorities to reduce the numbers of homeless children and families in housing need, and give combined authorities responsibility for affordable housing in their area and associated borrowing powers. These amendments would also require the Secretary of State to lay the report of these reviews under the clauses before both Houses of Parliament.

At the outset, I must say that housing is a priority for this Government. In our manifesto, we committed to building 200,000 starter homes and more affordable housing. We are putting in place £38 billion of public and private sector investment to help ensure that 275,000 new affordable homes are provided between 2015 and 2020. This means that we will build more new affordable homes than during any equivalent period in the last twenty years.

A couple of noble Lords asked about the definition of “affordable”. The detail is set out in the national policy planning framework, and it is, broadly:

“social rented … and intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market”.

However, within that, there is broad scope around what affordability means in different places to different people.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am surprised that the Minister has adduced that definition of “affordable”, because for those of us involved in the sector—I declare an interest as chair of a housing association—affordable housing rents are very different from social housing rents. Social housing rents are running at about 40% to 50% of the market rent, while affordable rents are running at about 80%. We are required in any new building, whether funded by HCA grant or not, to charge affordable rents, which merely drives up the HB bill without any addition to the stock. It is therefore disingenuous, if I may say so, to suggest that social housing is a subset of affordable housing; it is a very different category.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, because I appreciate that I have not given an acceptable definition today, perhaps I may write to noble Lords before our next day in Committee. There are a number of definitions of “affordable”. I will do that in the next few days if that is okay.

We have a good track record on preventing homelessness. Since 2010, we have sustained our investment in homelessness prevention, resulting in local authorities preventing just over 730,000 households becoming homeless. Investment since 2010 has exceeded £500 million to help local authorities prevent and tackle homelessness. This has included an £8 million Help for Single Homeless Fund, which will improve council services for 22,000 single people facing the

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1645

prospect of homelessness, and a £15 million Fair Chance Fund to provide accommodation, education, training and employment opportunities for around 1,600 of our most vulnerable young, homeless people.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked whether combined authorities would be under the same duties as local authorities in relation to functions such as homelessness. If the combined authorities wish to take on housing functions, the functions will be the same as they would have been had they remained within the constituent councils. He also asked whether strategic housing policy is always part of combined authority responsibilities. What responsibilities a combined authority will have depends on the individual deal agreed with an area. That deal may include the constituent councils agreeing that certain of their powers and duties will be undertaken by the combined authority either on their behalf or concurrently with them.

I turn to an example of a devolution deal in which housing is an important element: that in Greater Manchester. It includes Greater Manchester having a housing investment fund worth £300 million over 10 years, to be administered by the mayor. The fund will support the delivery of at least 10,000 houses, some of which will be affordable, and will be subject to stringent evaluation before, during and after the 10 years come to an end. I think that it was either the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, or the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie—in fact, it might have been the noble Lord, Lord Shipley; I did not write down the name of the noble Lord—who asked whether there were any plans to alter the powers of local authorities in the Bill. The answer is no.

This Bill is an enabling Bill, creating the primary legislative framework for implementing bespoke devolution deals. It is not for the Bill to assume what might be included in a deal. Indeed, it is not for the Government to assume what might be in a deal. We are ready to have conversations with any area about what it wishes to see included in a deal for it to be able to meet its needs, develop its economy and increase the competitiveness, productivity and prosperity of the place —be it a city, a county or a town.

Including the amendments in the Bill would imply that a particular view was being taken centrally about homelessness and housing and about how those issues might be addressed in any particular area. It is not for the Secretary of State to prejudge, in advance of any conversations with areas, whether homelessness or providing affordable housing in a particular area is best dealt with by combined authorities or by local authorities, either generally or of a particular class or category.

7.15 pm

I suggest that reaching a general view on these issues is simply not practical. What might be right in one area may be far from the right approach in another—the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, pointed out the particular circumstances of Norwich. In Greater Manchester, the mayor of the combined authority area will be responsible for the housing investment fund. In another place, the responsibility for that fund might appropriately be that of the combined authority, and in another that same responsibility might best be discharged, as the noble Baroness said, by one or more of the local

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1646

authorities. This is the reality which underpins our approach of seeking to agree with individual areas bespoke devolution deals.

When any deal is implemented through the legislative framework established by the Bill, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate and approve the secondary legislation necessary to put that deal in place. When doing this, Parliament will need to have before it information about the deal and the outcomes which it will deliver. I recognise that the standard Explanatory Memorandums accompanying secondary legislation can include much of this material, and I am ready to consider whether this is sufficient in this unprecedented process of devolution. I therefore ask the noble Earl not to press his amendments.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her careful reply and particularly for her last comment about how secondary legislation subsequent to the Bill might be helpful. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and taken care to consider the detail of the amendment.

In writing to noble Lords following this debate, might the Minister include a little about the Government’s plans in respect of support that can be offered for social housing? That would be helpful in meeting concerns about family homelessness and housing need.

A question was asked about local authorities’ capacity for borrowing which perhaps the Minister did not answer, but I understand that there was an earlier debate in which she did. Perhaps she might like to comment again on that. Did I miss her comments on what borrowing capacity new groupings might have? While I do not want to put words in her mouth, she might say that it is a matter for discussion and negotiation.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Earl for that question because I did not pick up on that point. I spoke earlier on about prudential borrowing, but I will write to him about the Government’s general policy on the points that he raised—I meant to say that at the outset.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36A withdrawn.

Amendment 36B not moved.

Amendment 36C

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

36C: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—

“Public authority functions

Within one month of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a list of public authority functions which may be the subject of a transfer of functions under the provisions of this Act.”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 36F. Let me say at the outset that the amendments are to an extent prescriptive.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1647

Amendment 36C would require the Secretary of State to publish a list of public authority functions which may be the subject of a transfer under the provisions of this Act. Amendment 36F goes further and would require the Secretary of State to consult combined authorities with a view to devolving certain functions and funding in certain areas. These are employment support, transport, housing, skills and business rates. We should be clear that the published list does not require any of the functions to be transferred in any particular situation; that will remain subject to whatever agreement, if any, is entered into in practice.

The amendment has been prompted in part by the first report of the Session of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which refers to the wide powers that new Section 105A would confer. It states at paragraph 10:

“But it says nothing about how in practice these powers might be used, or why it is not appropriate or practicable to include a description of the types of function covered by the power on the face of the Bill”.

We agree. If there are concerns about government at the centre trying to pull back the devolutionary process, putting down some markers must surely act as a counterweight. It might even help encourage and embolden some of those authorities that are not yet members of a combined authority and are not fully in the know.

Amendment 36F requires government to be proactive in the cause of devolution. In Committee on Monday, we got the line that the Government would wait to hear who comes knocking and then respond and engage in some fashion. The amendment requires the Government to themselves initiate consultation with combined authorities over areas of,

“employment support … transport … housing … skills … and … business rates”,

as matters that are important for driving growth and prosperity. It does not preclude consultation over other matters, and we have a separate amendment covering strategic planning.

It may well be that consultations are already going on in a number of areas with a number of combined authorities—indeed, we know that there are. That is fine, but adopting the requirements of the amendment would ensure that opportunities are being opened up for all combined authorities. From our debates in Committee on Monday, there was no indication from the Minister that there were any capacity constraints as far as the Government were concerned on moving forward on a wide front. This would force the pace of devolution—and on a broad front. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I am pleased in principle to support Amendments 36C and 36F. However, in Amendment 36C, on publishing a list of public authority functions, why do we need to wait to within one month of the enacting of the Bill? Surely it is known now what the functions might be. Should the House not be informed what they are before the passing of the Bill? I would be grateful if the Minister could specifically explain why it is not possible to list the public authority functions before the Bill passes rather than afterwards.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1648

Amendment 36F is fine as far as it goes—and of course we will have the opportunity in Amendment 36G to discuss strategic planning issues, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, explained. But I have two points to make in relation to this amendment. First, this is not necessarily an exclusive list; other powers and funding could be thought about. One is careers advice. It may be seen to lie within the skills head, but probably it could be treated separately. There may well be others. We should have a discussion about whether there are other areas to add to the list of matters that the combined authorities should be consulted on.

My second point relates to the use of the word “powers”. At some point we need to think more in terms of responsibilities. Powers and funding are one thing, but what you do with them is another. There is now the prospect of a very large number of functions, powers and responsibilities coming into the remit of combined authorities. I am starting to get very worried about the capacity of the combined authorities to manage all of the things that they may be asked to undertake. As part of the consultation that is asked for in Amendment 36F, I hope that the issue of capacity and resources is also addressed.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 36C. It is particularly important in relation to NHS responsibilities, which we will come to a little later. There is a considerable number of laggards in the NHS who are really nervous about getting into this territory. It is important that they start to engage their brains with this, because there is a growing number of failing health economies. Too many of them are sitting waiting to see what happens in Greater Manchester rather than engaging with this issue. I hope that the Minister will address this point—the sooner the better—and not be afraid to make it clear to the outside world, particularly the NHS, that these functions could be transferred down to the combined authorities.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, these amendments go to the heart of one of the problems that we have talked about many times in this Bill—the principle of not quite open house but, “Tell us what you want and we’ll discuss it. We’re not going to reveal our hand, but we might be interested in discussing it and we will listen and talk”. I share the view of my colleagues on the opposition Front Bench that it makes a lot of sense to go further than that for many local authorities that are considering whether or not to become combined authorities—not the relatively small number of combined authorities that currently exist but those that are looking at what it might all mean.

I still think that it is a terrible waste of people’s time not to have a reasonable idea of the kinds of thing that the Government might be positively interested in. I have said this before but any local authority groups coming together will have to second-guess what the Government might be interested in devolving, which is a terrible waste of time. They have to have a dialogue and find things out while someone else has probably been through the same process already. The Government must have a view about the areas that they are prepared to see devolved. Devolution is a two-way process. It is

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1649

what local government and people in local communities would like to have, but it must also be about what central government feels it makes sense in the current climate to give a lead to—so I welcome these amendments.

To pick out one area, skills, and all that is associated with it, fewer than 2 million people go to university—full-time or part-time—but almost 3 million people are in further education. A lot of people in your Lordships’ House have been to university but far fewer will have been through FE colleges. I see the noble Lord indicating that he did. It is easy to overlook the fact that far more people look to other routes into skills and education than universities. I am from a strong university background so my view of universities is not negative at all, but that is the reality. The skills of that group of people are very important to the economies of our combined authority areas. The people with low and medium-level skills are almost certainly the people who will work and live in those communities. A lot of people in universities go off elsewhere—we would like to keep more of them in West Yorkshire. These people are the key to skills and our economic development and growth. Having a strategic view on that is extremely important.

That leads me to two final points. First, my noble friend touched on health and social care, and I would like to see that on the list. Any list can be added to, and it is clearly the case in Manchester, so it ought to be on a list that is indicative of the kind of things that we would expect to be up for discussion.

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the role of the authority’s mayor is largely and overwhelmingly strategic, and where there are interventions, they are to help secure the strategic objectives. There is some temptation for local authorities to think, as the discussions go on, that local authority powers will be taken away from them: that while there might be some devolution from central government, powers will be taken away from local councils. Putting that kind of message out and making clear the difference between strategic powers and detailed implementation powers is extremely important. I warmly welcome the thrust of these amendments.

7.30 pm

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I wish to echo a concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, if I understood him correctly This brings to mind the Queen’s Speech of 2010 in which the Government said that their ambition was to move power back to doctors, teachers and front-line professionals and let whoever is closest to the patient, the pupil and so on, make the decisions. One has seen following on from that the academy schools programme, powers for head teachers, and changes in social work with more responsibility being given to social workers. The delegation of power is moving downwards to those who are closest to the particular client. I see a similarity here.

The big question that one needs to be reassured about is that, for instance, a social worker—this is of concern to me—is sufficiently experienced and supported to make the right decisions about children and families. Perhaps what the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is saying is that in giving these responsibilities, we must make sure that the new authorities have the capacity to

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1650

make the right judgments. We do not want to tie their hands and we want them to be free, as long as they have the capacity to make the right decisions. I realise that this is bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: the more freedom one gives, the more people of the right calibre one may attract to take up those posts. But given that these are such important decisions for the lives of families in our society, it is quite fair to ask that reasonable checks be made on the quality of what is produced. I hope that that makes sense.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, these amendments seek in one way or another to provide that in advance of the devolutions being implemented, some form of statement should be published by the Secretary of State or put in the Bill about the range of powers which might be devolved to areas. These are examples of the quite centralist and prescriptive approach so beloved of Governments over the last 150 years, and that is what this Bill precisely seeks to reverse. There will be no prescribed list for local authorities or combined authorities to follow. We want to hear from them; we do not want to tell them what they want or what their plans for growth are. Our approach has been to start a conversation with the areas if they want to talk to us about their aspirations and the powers and budgets they want to have devolved to them to improve their area’s economy, deliver better local public services and build sustainable prosperity.

We want areas to be as ambitious as possible and we want to hear what they want, not what they think we are looking for. That is the whole point of the Bill. We do not have some preordained list of powers which we might devolve, and we do not wish to have in advance any conversations that would set limits or parameters about what may or may not be devolved or what might be an initial priority for devolution.

Noble Lords will be aware of the Manchester deal, and we have talked at length about some of the powers that Manchester wishes to see devolved. Perhaps that provides ideas for other authorities to move forward and the plans might offer them some inspiration, but we do not wish to impose the Manchester plan for growth on the Cornwall plan for growth or, indeed, the one for Norwich. We are very clear about that.

I am afraid that these amendments are simply out of step with the whole approach that this Bill is designed to deliver: agreeing bespoke devolution deals which enable individual areas to realise their potential and make the greatest possible contribution to the success of the UK as it responds to global economic opportunities and the challenges we all face.

I want to make two points. The noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, or the noble Lord, Lord Warner, made a point about local authorities being frightened that services they deliver as local authorities could be taken away—the difference between the strategic direction and the local direction of a council. That is a very important point to make because when combined authorities are thinking about their ambitions and plans, they must be focused on the big strategic issues that will benefit from the opportunity of scale across a number of local authorities.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1651

The other point I want to deal with is that of capacity, alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. In a sense we are already dealing with combined authorities because we are having conversations, and obviously the Greater Manchester devolution deal took place last November, so we will continue with that. But when consulting the combined authorities on powers, their capacity to take on functions will also need to be addressed. A critical issue in the conversation with combined authorities will be to ensure that they have the capacity to deal with the matters that they wish to take on. If they are ambitious for powers to be devolved to them, they will need to be clear in the proposal they bring to us on the governance arrangements for managing and handling the power they want and how they will have the capacity to do so. With that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. Every noble Lord has supported these amendments with the exception, unsurprisingly, of the Minister. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that there is no fix on the timing of Amendment 36C if there are benefits in being flexible, or indeed on expanding the list. I would be happy to talk about that when we return to this matter, as we certainly will.

My noble friend Lord Warner made an important point about engaging health economies where they are holding back at the moment—being proactive and prodding them into focusing and engaging. The amendments have had the strong support of my noble friend Lord Woolmer, who stressed the importance of skills and the need to be strategic in these things.

I should say to the Minister that I am not surprised at the response because it is what we have been given throughout our consideration of the Bill: “This is a broad framework and we are not going to tell anyone to do anything; we are happy to sit back and have conversations”. In a sense that is government by vacuum, with no lists, preconceptions or limits being set. That cannot be good enough. If the Government are not themselves now planning how to deal with the consequences of what might happen after devolution, it would seem that they are being derelict. None of this forces anyone to do any particular thing, apart from the Government saying, “Actually, get off your backsides and make this work. Do something proactive to engage with combined authorities so that they know what is on offer and encourage them into deals”. Otherwise, there will simply be cosy conversations on an unplanned basis, and a favoured few authorities may well get the nod of approval from the Government. But the general thrust of our position is that we want devolution to work across the board in England on a proactive basis. That is what our amendments are designed to help achieve.

I will withdraw the amendments today, but I have absolutely no doubt that we are going to return to this issue in one form or another because it is at the heart of whether we believe that devolution should work across the board and we should want it to happen, or

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1652

whether we think that it is a question of waiting to see what washes over us in due course. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36C withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.39 pm.


Question for Short Debate

7.40 pm

Asked by Baroness Falkner of Margravine

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the political situation in Syria.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, the war in Syria is in its fifth year. The UN estimates 200,000 dead, 100,000 injured and 10 million displaced. The whole of the Middle East is riven by sectarianism and destabilised by global jihad. The borders of the Levant are in a state of flux. It is tempting to ask how we got here; what could we have done to avert this ongoing crisis? However, this is merely a Short Debate so I will not test the patience of the House.

Let me lay out how the situation has evolved since we last debated the Middle East earlier this year. We have not seen a rout of ISIL; we have not seen a consolidation of the opposition forces around the Syrian national coalition, and we have not seen a reduction in interventions by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the side of the Islamists, and Iran, Russia and Lebanon for Assad.

What of the instability it is causing around the world? We know that the emergence of ISIL in control of its own territory is a pull factor for global jihadis. It is not just the threat from returning jihadis which should concern us, but also that ISIL is attracting allegiance from across various jihadi groups in the Muslim world. What started as a civil war has now become a struggle for the heart of Islam. It has become a geopolitical struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the number of external factors of different ideological positions, it is several wars. It is a Shia/Sunni war, but it is also a Sunni/Sunni war. Its reach is global, as its resolution will impact on Islam and modernity well into the future.

My question for Her Majesty’s Government is simply this: where do the Government see this taking us and our interests in the maintenance of international peace and security—the obligation that permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council imposes on us? What is their assessment of what the end will look like? In fact, do they actually have a strategic vision for the map of the Middle East when this is all said and done? Are they considering the UK’s interests with a view to the very real possibility that we may have to recalibrate our alliances quite substantially at the end of this?

Let me suggest a few possible options we might need to consider. I urge the Government not to let the war against ISIL divert their focus from trying to get peace even in a rump Syria. Defeating ISIL cannot be done without peace in what remains of Syria. A lot of

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1653

hope is placed on Iran and the potential success of the P3+3 talks culminating on 30 June. I share that hope for a successful outcome. While we hope that once Iran is inside the tent, so to speak, it will exert a more positive influence on Syria, we should not underestimate the difficulty in getting the moderate opposition—I am referring to the non al-Qaeda, non Jabhat al-Nusra and non Islamic State groupings—into peace talks.

We also have to consider the influence that Russia can bring to bear on Syria. I have been as vocal a critic of President Putin’s Russia as anyone in this House but I acknowledge that, despite their role in Crimea and Ukraine, we need the Russians to use what leverage they have with the Assad regime. It will not be a surprise to the House tonight that Russia may have to be Assad’s safe haven, if that is the price of peace in Syria. So my question to the Minister is: to what extent are we working with the US and Russia in trying to find a format for Geneva III? A propos peace talks, the Minister will be aware that the 37 groupings under the aegis of the revolutionary command council recently wrote an open letter to the United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura to say that they would not attend Geneva III, as they saw him as too close to the Assad regime.

While this is clearly unhelpful, the facts on the ground have changed and so must our analysis. From 2011 till 30 August 2013, when the House of Commons decided not to vote for limited intervention against Assad, I was clear that we could not have peace with Assad in situ. However, with the advent of ISIL, and the ongoing support by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for Islamists—I would go as far as to say support of jihadi groups by those countries—we now have to acknowledge that Assad’s people have to be part of the solution. In that regard, I make no criticism of Staffan de Mistura for seeking to bring the Syrian Government into the talks.

The interview that Bashar al-Assad gave to the US journal Foreign Affairs in March is instructive. Assad gets the fact that all wars end in a political settlement. As for preconditions for talks, he is no longer saying that he will speak only to representative political parties, but in fact makes it clear that he will speak to, in his words, “any political entity” or person. When asked about preconditions, he makes it clear that there will be no conditions. I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that this interview was clearly designed to send a more nuanced and calibrated message than we had from the regime until now.

I urge the Government to work towards talks even if their influence lies only with the secular moderate opposition, such that that exists. Even if we have only incremental gains towards a partial peace, it will signal the beginning of a transition. However, what of a wider strategy? I posed a question about where the pieces would fall in this kaleidoscope. If all we can achieve in Syria is only a partial peace, we must go for that. ISIL will be a feature of both Syria and Iraq as well as the rest of the Muslim world for some time. The caliphate it promotes is evidently attractive to many Muslims, and will continue to be so. In the next decade or so we might have displaced it in the Levant, only to see it emerge in poorly governed spaces in Africa or south Asia.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1654

What is clear is that the ideology that ISIL feeds on has not come out of the blue, despite the protestations of the Saudis, Qataris and those who themselves have supported the propagation of these medieval versions of Islam. If we have a partial peace in Syria and Iraq, do we expect to continue to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states or indeed Turkey? I suspect not. Those countries will have to account for their role in this ugly war to other Muslims.

The Islamic civilisation that existed before the events of 9/11 has disappeared permanently. The Muslim world can see that, hence we have seen the different reactions to the rise of Islamism in different countries. The recent elections in Turkey have provided a little hope that the fightback from modern Muslims has begun. In Egypt the reaction against the Muslim Brotherhood has been less gratifying, however popular those measures might be domestically. No liberal can say that a death sentence against Morsi is a good thing.

However, what is clear from these different developments is that the West—the United Kingdom, the European Union, the US—has no comprehensive strategic vision that can guide us. I urge the Government to start thinking about our interests from a longer-term perspective.

Since I have not used up my time, I take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who will speak in tonight’s debate and who have stayed late to do so.

7.49 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con): My Lords, I think that all of us speaking tonight would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for securing this important debate.

The plight of the Druze in Syria is a worrying development for those of us who place a special significance on the religious diversity and harmony that was once a hallmark of the Levant and the Middle East. In so many of the Middle East’s holiest and most significant centres of religious devotion, the ability of all faiths to worship together in harmony and peaceful co-existence is much diminished. Many members of minority faiths have had to flee their homelands to survive and now live in refugee camps.

The scale of displacement across all sectors of society is quite astonishing and one of the real tragedies of the current situation in Syria. The refugee crisis in Syria is now the biggest mass movement of people since the Second World War. According to the UNHCR, almost 4 million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbours, more than half of them children. More than 6.5 million children and their families are internally displaced within Syria. This is, by any measure, the most profound humanitarian catastrophe of our time.

Save the Children reports that humanitarian access remains constrained, a result of which is that food, water and medicines are running out, putting millions at risk of sickness and malnutrition. I join Save the Children in urging the Government to use all their influence at the UN to ensure that UN agencies, as a matter of urgency, improve the delivery of aid across conflict lines and borders.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1655

I pay tribute to Save the Children and all the other NGOs for their remarkable work inside and outside Syria. I also pay tribute to the Government. We should be proud of our £800 million contribution, the largest ever response by the UK to any humanitarian crisis. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to expand the UK resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees.

Only a political solution can resolve this crisis. As ever in the Middle East, it is the politics that gets in the way of peace. No simple solution presents itself. As I was once told by a friend, “If you think you understand the politics of the Middle East, it’s not been explained to you properly”.

What is clear, however, is that, before a political solution can even start to gain momentum, the military challenge of ISIS must be contained and defeated. Much of the burden of this challenge is being faced by our staunch allies in the region, such as Jordan—I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan. Our role, which remains critical, is to support them in all that they do.

Happily, in a region wracked by instability, in Jordan we have a friend on whom we can rely, not only to provide safe shelter for refugees but as an ally that is doing its utmost to drive forward a political solution to this conflict— an effort that we should all applaud.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, just to remind the House that once the counter says three, you are on the fourth minute.

7.52 pm

Lord Soley (Lab): I congratulate the noble Baroness on getting the debate. It is tragic that it is so short, but she has done an awful lot of work on this and it is very important. I agree with much of what she has said and also with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, too.

I will keep my three minutes to one factor, because we cannot go into all of it, which is Russia, which the noble Baroness touched on. I have felt for a long time that the role of Russia in this is far more important than we have realised. I ask the Minister if we know whether Russia is still arming Assad and whether it is still providing him with intelligence. We underestimated the importance of the intelligence from Russia. We have to remember that it has satellites over the area providing information to Assad’s forces so that he can hold ground that, frankly, he would have lost otherwise. It has always been my view that Assad would not negotiate as long as Russia felt that it could keep him in place.

The third question that I would ask the Minister is this. I think that President Putin now knows that, although Assad might have to be part of the solution, as the noble Baroness said, he certainly cannot dictate it. There is no way that Assad can or should be back in control of the bulk of Syria again, even if Syria can hold together. A very important part of the policy that we have never fully debated in this Chamber is: what role is Russia playing? How close are we to Russia? Despite all the other problems with Crimea and the way that President Putin is behaving in modern Russia, there must be some shared interest in working together to solve this problem. It is not in Russia’s interest to have ISIL winning in that area.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1656

Similarly, although it might not quite see it this way, it is not really in Russia’s interest to see the United Nations frozen out, as it is at the moment because of the attitude of Russia and China against intervention. Syria is a classic example of how, just as intervention can go wrong, as it did in Iraq, so non-intervention can go wrong, too, as it has in Syria—unless people think that it is some wonderful success. The role of Russia is an issue that we need to bring out to some degree. Much of what else has been said could be dealt with in a much bigger way.

My last point is that we are in acute danger of a growing major war in the region involving Saudi Arabia and Iran—and, of course, the split within Islam between Sunni and Shia—which would have a knock-on effect on many of our allies there, which are becoming destabilised. Yemen is the latest example; I always worry about Bahrain, which has been doing remarkably well and deserves a lot of credit when it is in an almost impossible position in relation to Iran and Saudi.

For tonight, I simply would like answers so that I know more about what the British Government are doing with Russia—or is it just that we cannot do very much with it?

7.55 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond (CB): My Lords, over the past four years there have been consistent and confident forecasts that the Assad Government in Damascus were about to fall. If I may paraphrase Mark Twain, all these forecasts have, so far, been exaggerated. In the brief time available this evening, I will limit my intervention to a number of questions.

Would the Minister tell the House what support Her Majesty’s Government are still giving to the so-called “moderate rebels” in Syria? Does she think that they are a credible replacement for the Assad Government, if the Assad Government should fall? Are the Government playing any part in the reported plans of the so-called “Southern Front” to launch attacks on Damascus from the south? Is she aware of reports that all the rebel movements are now deeply infiltrated by Jabhat al-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaeda defined by the European Union and by the United States as a terrorist movement, but which both the United Nations and the United States seem increasingly to tolerate?

Is the Minister aware that the Islamic State, which now occupies a significant and growing area of Syrian territory, owes much of its support, in terms of money, men and weapons, to our Sunni friends in the Gulf? Does she accept that in supporting the so-called Syrian rebels, if that is what we are doing, we are effectively supporting the Sunni case that President Assad should go, without any apparent concern for the likelihood that the Islamic State would take over the Syrian Government in Damascus, with appalling consequences for the survival of secularism in that country? She may recall that the Christian nuns of Ma’loula, who were captured by Islamic extremists, publicly thanked the Assad Government for rescuing them. It is not only Christians who must dread the possibility of President Assad’s departure; there is a significant minority of Druze both in Syria and in the occupied Golan that already has much reason to fear the threat of Islamic extremists.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1657

Finally, I hope that the Minister will tell us how far we are co-ordinating our policy towards Syria with our partners in the European Union, and in particular whether we support the efforts of Mr Staffan de Mistura to negotiate a political solution with the involvement of the Government in Damascus. Surely our aim must be to reach a situation where Syrian refugees, who now number nearly 4 million, can return safely to their homes? Is it, even now, not too late to work for a joint international effort to drive back the Islamic State in Syria, and to persuade our Saudi friends, and our Turkish allies, that what they have helped to create presents as much of a threat to them and their neighbours as it does to us?

7.58 pm

Lord Risby (Con): My Lords, the tragic humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions arising out of the situation in Syria is now impacting all European countries, to add to the enormous pressures on Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. This all arose out of a terrible misjudgment by President Assad, who, after some ambiguity, blamed social unrest on foreigners and terrorists. There were arguments as to how to respond; sophisticated voices rejected any action against the Assad regime, saying that there was no strategy. His strategy was clear: survival at any cost, no matter what the bloodshed was and despite the efforts of the United Nations and the Arab League. Today we have the incredible situation whereby ISIL is supplying President Assad with oil and he and ISIL attack moderate Syrian rebels. The notion that he is a buffer against ISIL simply is not being borne out.

Russia, which has its own preoccupations in Ukraine and elsewhere, now realises that Assad and his immediate cabal cannot win. There is a widely held view that Iran would consider sacrificing Assad if there was a nuclear deal that, in turn, would enable it to negotiate its political interests thereafter. It appears that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are willing to act as security guarantors for Syria post Assad. They appear more disposed to support the more moderate rebels—fearing ISIL more than anything else—and they might provide the best guarantee of stopping ISIL taking over Syria in totality, including Damascus.

I refer my noble friend the Minister’s attention to a recent report put together by the Atlantic Council, The Case for a Syrian National Stabilization Force. It may well be of interest and points to a clear strategy for supporting the moderate rebels and, ultimately, looking at political reforms. Of course, the political structures that could support this do not yet exist, and we must not make the mistake of dismissing everybody with political and administrative experience, as regrettably occurred in Iraq.

Assad cannot last. Iran and Russia, for different reasons, are more open to dialogue, however tortuous, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia may well be supportive. At minimum such an approach is worth encouraging and I simply do not know of any viable alternative. I greatly look forward, therefore, to hearing from my noble friend of any role that we and other European partners can have in trying to bring about fresh thinking in resolving this tragedy. There may just be some straws in the wind now to support this.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1658

8.01 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, Syria is the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time, generating the largest movement of displaced people since World War II. We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for giving us this brief opportunity to turn a spotlight on these events. In my brief remarks, I will say something about the plight of minorities in Syria.

All faith communities and minorities, such as the Yazidis, have suffered, but the fate of the country’s Christians, already referred to, is catastrophic. The Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, asks:

“What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities? Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning. Because of this ugly and barbarous war, they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cherished children”.

ISIS has murdered, plundered, raped and abducted, including whole villages of Assyrian Christians. Now that joint Kurdish and Assyrian forces have recently recaptured a number of villages, can the Minister tell us whether we are going to provide teams, especially in the Khabur River Valley area, to find and dispose of mines and make homes and villages safe again? Where ground has been recaptured, will we be supporting the proposal of my noble friend Lord Dannatt to enhance their military capability? Do we accept that more training and support are needed for the Kurdish-led alliance, which can likely even seize Raqqa, with the result of crippling ISIS in both Syria and Iraq?

Does the Minister agree that the Kurdish-Assyrian democratic self-administration governmental structure and its commitment to civil society and the rule of law should be the model for a post-Assad, post-ISIS Syria and possibly for the entire region? Will the Minister consider practical support for Bassam Ishak, the president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, who has a vision of a Syria in which rights are based on citizenship; where all people, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender, are treated equally; and where women have a prominent role in the structures? These pillars of the DSA system should surely be the pillars of a post-Assad, post-ISIS Syria.

The overall goal must be to enable all Syrians who have left, including Christians, to return to their homes, to be safe when they return, and to participate in rebuilding the Syrian infrastructure and Government on the basis of social and political equality, with religious freedom and human rights being safeguarded. It is not perfect but the Kurdish-Assyrian coalition is the best example in this fractured region of hard-headed bridge-building and what the West should want to see in the Syria of the future.

8.04 pm

Baroness Tonge (Ind LD): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. Last week I was in Lebanon, visiting refugee camps there, and I want to take this opportunity to highlight the plight of the Palestinians among the millions of refugees fleeing Syria.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1659

I met people whose families had fled Palestine during the Nakba in 1948 and found shelter in Iraq but 10 years ago had had to flee Iraq as well, following the war waged against Saddam Hussein. They had made their homes in Syria, where they were very well treated by the Government, until rebel groups infiltrated the Yarmouk camp and catastrophe occurred once more. They were refugees again, for the third time in a generation. They are now trying to live in Lebanon. Their entire support is coming from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—UNRWA—because they are not allowed to work by the Lebanese Government; they are not given work permits. They live among other Palestinians in converted sheds and animal shelters, which I visited, that UNRWA and the NGOs have managed to make just about habitable. They have no means of support and have been dependent on monthly cash handouts from UNRWA to cover food costs and rent. Unrest is developing very quickly in the camps because UNRWA has had to tell the refugees that these cash handouts will have to stop at the end of June because it has run out of funds.

UNRWA was set up as a temporary organisation in 1948 to help refugees from the Nakba. It is still struggling to cope 60 years later. The UK is the third-largest funder of UNRWA, and we should be proud of what we have done, but we need to address this shortfall in funding before unrest spills over into serious violence and fighting in Lebanon itself. Can the Minister tell us what the Government intend to do to avert this cash shortage? For instance, will pressure be put on the Gulf states to help? Finally—she will expect me to say this—will she not admit that the creation of a secure homeland for the Palestinians is now more needed than ever, and that our Government should encourage this by recognising the state of Palestine? This would be a huge contribution to peace in the wider Middle East.

8.07 pm

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for introducing this debate because much has changed in Syria. The mainly Kurdish cantons of Kobane and Jazira are now linked up, while Afrin is still free. This means that most of the Turkish frontier is now closed to ISIS. The Kurdish and Arab militia, with US air support, has shown that it can defeat ISIS.

Will Her Majesty’s Government support the three cantons in their demand for internal self-determination? Will they come out clearly in favour of common citizenship for all, as proclaimed by the elected assembly of Jazira? Will they urge Turkey to open its frontier to urgent medical and relief supplies going into Syria and grain exports coming out of it? I urge the Government to see for themselves what is happening in the cantons. It is quite easy to enter Jazira—I have done it myself.

We should help the cantons to uphold their written constitution and social charter. When fully put into practice, these can provide a model for Syria and an example to other parts of the Middle East, as my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned. If Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs and others can co-operate, why should other Syrians not do the same? Nearby Lebanon suffered a

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1660

terrible civil war but the Lebanese are now trying to live together and the country has achieved the amazing feat of absorbing more than 1 million Syrians without putting anyone into camps.

I conclude by hoping and thinking that perhaps there is still some hope for Syria.

8.09 pm

Lord Naseby (Con): My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate enormously. This war has gone on for 54 months; that is four and a half years. The Second World War lasted only five and three-quarter years. That puts it in context. In my judgment there are two causes. First, this is the fourth Shia/Sunni war since Syria was set up. Secondly, I am afraid that the West’s idea of an Arab spring has proved to be a disaster. In fact, as my noble friend on the Front Bench will know, we were the first to recognise the freedom fighters. The trouble was we did not recognise who were the freedom fighters, and the jihadists were the largest group.

I raised this issue with the then Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in 2013, and was told that Assad was on the way out. However, as my noble friend on the Cross Benches said, he has spent an awful long time going. In my judgment the time has surely come to recognise reality and meet Assad, exactly as Churchill had to do with Stalin. You may not like the man but that is irrelevant in the context of what we face today. If we do not, it is my judgment that the state of ISIL will become a reality. I draw an analogy with Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, a vicious, left-wing-led Hindu organisation that was only defeated by strong leadership—remember that it is democratically elected—good armed forces, and absolutely key was the help the West gave to stop supplies to the Tamil Tigers. We now need similar leadership from the West, and it has to include Assad and his forces. If we do not address this task, the West will surely suffer. ISIL state will become a reality and we, too, in the UK will suffer home-grown terrorism which may make the IRA look like beginners. We need only look at the pictures on page 30 and 31 of today’s Times to understand what the real threats are. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that I have seen some of those cages at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. They are quite ghastly. If we have to sup with Assad, then we must do it soon.

8.12 pm

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for this debate but, oh, how we need a standing Select Committee to regularly scrutinise policy on subjects such as this to focus our debates. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will read Hansard tomorrow.

The Minister will well remember the debate that took place almost two years ago when a majority in this House took the view that it would be a mistake to bomb Damascus. The principal argument that many noble Lords adduced was that it was not clear what the Government envisaged doing the day after such a bombing. The strategy was not clear—we could not discern a strategy. I must admit that I still cannot discern it.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1661

I see no way of saying in three minutes anything that is commensurate with the scale of the tragedy that has been running for four and a half years, given the scale of the casualties and the 10 million displaced people. Therefore, I will just ask the Minister four questions. I have no time for analysis or advocacy. First, who do the British Government recognise as the legitimate Government of Syria? Are we in diplomatic relations with them? Is it still our view that President Assad’s departure is essential, even if his successor was Jaish, which is al-Qaeda by another name, or ISIL?

Secondly, is the UK still conducting military operations against ISIL only in Iraq and not in Syria? If so, can the Minister cite a precedent for any previous similarly geographically constrained military operation against an enemy occupying parts of more than one country?

Thirdly, since the Syrian tragedy is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, do the Government agree that the key to a solution must lie in Tehran and Moscow on the one hand and Riyadh, Doha and Ankara on the other? What are we saying in these capitals? What incentives are we suggesting which might encourage both sides to back down?

Lastly, is it really the case that whereas the Turks and the Jordanians are dealing with millions of refugees, and other European countries such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands are taking in tens of thousands of refugees, we in this country have so far admitted fewer than 200? If so, how can we reconcile that with our history, traditions and values?

8.14 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate in a very comprehensive way. She was lucky to have 10 minutes; we are lucky to have three minutes. There is no way you can do justice to a very complicated situation in that time.

Syria, which was relatively developed, has been reduced to ruins and, as we have heard, millions have escaped the country with little more than the clothes they stood in. A key concern that we should have is that there is seemingly no strategy for dealing with this crisis. What we need is an honest and complete reassessment of British and EU foreign and security policy in this area. Piecemeal, short-term and ad hoc measures cannot replace a comprehensive, long-term foreign policy strategy—a strategy which I am afraid has been clearly lacking in recent years.

The conflict is much more complicated than a battle between those who are for or against President Assad. It now has a clear sectarian angle, with the Sunni majority fighting the Shia Alawite sect. The turmoil in the country has attracted jihadist groups, including Islamic State, as we have heard. There have been atrocious war crimes committed: murder, rape, torture, and the use of chemical weapons, sometimes in barrel bombs. There are serious threats to historic antiquity. I ask the Minister to elaborate on what we are doing to protect these irreplaceable relics. Will she indicate whether the Government support the efforts of Staffan de Mistura to establish freeze zones to allow aid deliveries in besieged areas, and give some idea of

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1662

how and when these zones may become operational? Will she also confirm whether the Government are still pressing the EU to lift the arms embargo to the rebels fighting Assad? I would like to ask the Minister a variation on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. There are rumours implying that the US has suggested that Assad will not have to go. Can she confirm whether that is the case?

We are aware that the British Government have been very generous in helping to fund refugees in the region, but I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on whether a proportion of this fund is being earmarked to protect women, who are enduring extreme human rights abuses in some of the camps. Have the Government any intention of contributing to the EU trust fund for Syria, to which Germany and Italy have already contributed? It is worth underlining that by March this year the UK had resettled only 187 Syrians, while Germany has accepted 28,000. We must underline that as we have a responsibility in that regard.

Let me pick up on a point about Russia made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. On 19 June, Putin once again underlined his support for the Assad regime, emphasising that he opposed any use of external force to try to end the civil war in a country which conveniently gives him access to a friendly Mediterranean port. What are we doing about the Russian situation? What is our plan in that regard?

We should be asking many more questions. I am afraid that my time has run out but we need to ask: where is the long-term strategic vision for this region? It is all very complicated; this is about not just Syria but the whole region, and we do not seem to have a plan.

8.18 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for tabling this debate. I thank all other noble Lords for their contributions. I take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate the way in which the noble Baroness contributes to our debates. Her work is invaluable and she gives us an effective and knowledgeable voice.

In responding to the debate, I will seek to address what I think are her underlying questions, as echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, a moment ago. Is there a strategy to assist the international community in its search for a political resolution in Syria and, if so, what is it?

First, with regard to the Syrian context, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and others that the Syrian situation is clearly within the context of the wider region. Today, the Question is about Syria and I will focus on that but I am sure that we will, quite rightly, return in other debates to the wider context. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, referred to that, too.

As we have heard in detail today the conflict in Syria, now in its fifth year, continues to worsen. Indeed, it is arguably one of the most difficult and tragic of our generation. Just miles from his palace in Damascus, President Assad uses barrel bombs, chemical weapons

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1663

and siege and starvation tactics against his own people. The latest harrowing estimates are of more than 230,000 people dead, 12.2 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid within Syria itself, and 3.9 million refugees in the wider region. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has repeatedly underlined the urgency of a political solution in Syria, including recently at the G7. Doing nothing is not an option for any of us. Our national security interests are affected by Syria and regional stability is threatened. We simply cannot turn our attention from one of the most awful humanitarian situations in the world. We need to focus on it.

I am appalled by the systematic use of sexual violence by Assad’s forces and their militia. I appreciate that it is not limited to them and that some of the opposition forces engage in it, but the majority of it takes place within Assad’s own forces. Unspeakably brutal acts have been extensively reported by the commission of inquiry. To help mitigate and prevent further irreparable devastation, the UK already provides £800 million in humanitarian aid to support the region, as noble Lords have referred to tonight. We support the UN Population Fund, which provides services in Syria for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. This includes providing safe spaces and psychosocial care for more than 27,000 women. Through NGOs, we are supporting holistic case management services for more than 800 survivors of gender-based violence among Syrian refugees in Jordan, and cash assistance to vulnerable refugee women in Lebanon.

We also fund two projects in Syria to improve the capacity to document crimes of sexual violence to hold perpetrators to account in the future. In my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, I will be unrelenting in pursuing this and pushing for even more support for survivors of sexual violence and the need for accountability. There can be no impunity; we must hunt these people down, and Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

In answer to one or two noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Naseby, Assad cannot be a credible partner for us. Why? Because he cannot unite Syrians, cannot win broad international backing and cannot defeat ISIL. He is responsible for ISIL’s rise and his presence is fuelling its growth now, as well as providing the operating space for other extremist groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates such as the al-Nusra Front. He is the cause; he is not the cure. Combating ISIL, as noble Lords have said, requires a multi-faceted approach: one that combines a tough military response with an intelligent and nuanced political strategy, degrading ISIL’s access to funds, fighters and resources in both Syria and Iraq, to refer back to the regional perspective. That is why in Iraq, we are building international support for Prime Minister al-Abadi’s Government, which is committed to political reform and to representing all Iraq’s communities, and why we are contributing to US-led efforts to train and equip the moderate opposition fighting ISIL in Syria.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, that there is still no military action by the United Kingdom in Syria because a sovereign Parliament

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1664

took a sovereign decision in a vote two years ago. We said then that we would not commit troops to the ground to fight, unless there was a severe humanitarian catastrophe which could be solved only by military action or unless our own security interests were so threatened that we had to take immediate action. We would then return immediately to Parliament for consideration and assent.

Quite rightly, noble Lords concentrated on political settlements. Political transition in Syria is fundamental. It would, we hope, allow us a partner in Syria with whom we could work against extremists. Like noble Lords, we are under no illusion that a political transition will be easy or come in the near future, nor that Assad—despite the regime’s territorial losses and the destruction he has brought upon his people—is ready to negotiate. I listened and agreed entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said with regard to that. Assad is not going any time soon, if he has anything to do with it. There is widespread consensus that Syria’s conflict cannot be resolved militarily. Equally, a collapse of all its state institutions is not in Syria’s interests. That is why we seek an urgent, inclusive, Syrian-led political transition away from Assad’s rule to a transitional Government agreed by mutual consent of the Syrian parties, as called for in the Geneva communiqué—the only document so far agreed by the P5 UNSC members, as well as the key regional partners.

The noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Alton, referred to the Kurds, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and to the work of Staffan de Mistura. We recognise the difficult circumstances that the Syrian Kurds face in the midst of the continuing civil war. We do not, however, support the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s formation of a temporary Administration in the Kurdish areas of Syria. This move was not conducted in consultation with the wider Syrian population or the international community. We believe that it will be for all Syrians to decide the exact nature of the political settlement in Syria as part of a transition process, including whether an autonomous region will be created for the Kurds in Syria.

We fully support the work of Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy, in his efforts to kick-start a political dialogue. I was pleased last week to be able to meet his deputy to discuss matters while Mr de Mistura was in Syria having discussions. I know that he is a very realistic and determined person. Last week, we discussed with his deputy how the UK can support Staffan de Mistura’s efforts and we are engaging intensively with his team.

We are also working with international partners, which several noble Lords asked about, and the moderate opposition. We do not rule out working with anyone, including Iran and Russia. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, Russia continues to supply arms and intelligence. It continues to support the Assad regime but it could have a vital role to play in ensuring that Assad eventually makes the right decision: to allow a transition.

Key to all our efforts will be the Syrian national coalition, which represents moderate and inclusive values and remains at the heart of the Syrian opposition. It is closely engaging with Staffan de Mistura as he

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1665

seeks to initiate that whole political process. The national coalition has said that it does not regard itself as a Government in waiting. Once a transition is achieved, it has made it clear that it will disband itself in favour of free and fair elections. That is the path and the strategy that we need. But if we are to undermine extremists, the UK must support the moderates on the ground in Syria who are trying to provide services to their communities and deny opportunities for the extremists, but not with active military assistance. What we have already done is to commit more than £50 million to support governance this year, along with education, health, and sanitation in areas under opposition control. We have helped the Free Syrian Police to establish more than 70 police stations to provide communities with basic security and we are supporting volunteers in 96 civil defence teams to carry out operations in search and rescue, fire-fighting and first aid. That is where our assistance is best placed, not in lethal assistance.

Finally, I turn to humanitarian aid, asylum and migration, matters which were raised by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Morris and the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Hylton and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asked about relics, which I will mention if I have time.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Morris and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that this is the most profound humanitarian catastrophe of our time, which is why we have focused so much financial aid on Syria. I regularly discuss the funding of the United Nations and its allied organisations such as UNRWA not only with fellow Ministers but with the United Nations and its agencies, as I was doing last week in Geneva. I consistently press not only that they should be efficient but that donors should make sure their contributions are made on time.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about refugees. I pay tribute to the work of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and recognise their assistance in providing a safe haven for those who flee Syria. I would also say to the noble Lord that aid is entering Syria: the Turks do not routinely close their borders to aid convoys, although they sometimes have to close them for security reasons or simply because of the sheer volume of migrants going across, for their own safety. Only last week I discussed the matter of humanitarian aid going to Syria with the ICRC. I pay tribute to the bravery of its people.

Since 2011, when the crisis began, we have granted asylum or other forms of leave to remain here to more than 4,200 Syrians under our normal asylum rules. In addition, we operate the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last week announced some addition to that.

I see that my time is up. It is essential that there is a life in the future in Syria. That includes maintaining the existence of monuments, which are a testament to the past. We have, in Syria, people who deserve a future. We can act to ensure that they have that.

8.32 pm

Sitting suspended.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1666

Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL]

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

8.39 pm

Amendment 36D

Moved by Lord Bradley

36D: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—

“Transfer of functions: health and social care

A local or combined authority which is the recipient of any transfer of functions under this Act in relation to health and social care must abide by the following principles—

(a) they must remain part of the National Health Service and social care system;

(b) they must uphold the standards set out in national guidance;

(c) they must continue to meet statutory requirements and duties including those contained in the NHS Constitution and Mandate; and

(d) they must uphold the standards that underpin the delivery of social care and public health services.”

Lord Bradley (Lab): My Lords, in moving Amendment 36D, I shall also speak to Amendment 36E. Both amendments are in the names of my noble friends Lord McKenzie and Lord Beecham. This is the first opportunity to debate health and social care, but it may not be the last. I declare an interest as a resident of Greater Manchester, former city councillor in Manchester and former MP for the city. My interest in devolution to Greater Manchester is particularly strong.

These are essentially probing amendments regarding the devolution of health and social care to the combined authority—initially to Greater Manchester. I say “combined authority” because it is my understanding that health and social care is not a responsibility to be exercised by the elected mayor. In fact, the memorandum by the DCLG and the Home Office specifically rules out the integration of health and social care as a mayoral function. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that there is no intention in future to make that a mayoral function.

The devolution of health and social care in Greater Manchester has arguably provoked the most interest among the public, stakeholders, politicians and, of course, healthcare professionals amongst others. From a position of, in principle, supporting devolution, I believe it is important to clarify some of the points about the way that this proposal will unfold over the coming weeks and months.

The legislation we are debating makes not a single reference to health and social care. That is reinforced by the fact that in the Explanatory Notes, under “Legal background”, no reference is made to any health legislation, particularly the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We know that the original Greater Manchester devolution agreement did not cover health and social care and that a very belated memorandum of understanding was agreed between the Government and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to set in train the process of devolution of health and social care. Therefore, probing amendments have been tabled under Clause 6, “Other public authority functions”, to elicit further information in this area.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1667

First, we seek clarification: does the Bill apply in any way to public authorities other than district, unitary and county councils? Specifically, do any NHS organisations—clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts, foundation trusts or arm’s-length bodies, to name but a few—fall within the powers that Clause 6 gives to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to transfer functions and property or rights to a combined authority? I anticipate that the answer to this is no, but that means that the Bill has no bearing on the health devolution proposals and its provisions cannot be used to enact health devolution. As I noted earlier, the Explanatory Notes do not include the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which also suggests that it has no competence in this area. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could confirm the Government’s interpretation is the same as mine.

Secondly, having read the health devolution memorandum of understanding, I suggest that implementing many of its provisions may require, sooner or later, primary or secondary legislation. This could be desirable, not only to set out clearly the statutory basis on which responsibilities may move between existing bodies—for example, CCGs, local authorities, foundation trusts and so on—but also to frame accountability relationships. Where such arrangements are currently set out in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, it would seem that amendments to that Act, whether made using the powers of this Bill or made directly through further legislation, would be required. For example, if the Greater Manchester Strategic Health and Social Care Partnership Board required statutory powers—and many commentators are of the view that, for such bodies to really shape the services locally, they will require such powers, and this view has often been argued in relationship to health and well-being boards being the strategic body at a local level without any statutory powers—clearly, amendments to primary legislation will be required. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm the position. We do not want to leave NHS organisations and their boards, which implement policies, open to legal challenge that they are acting outside or in conflict with legislation.

8.45 pm

Further on the subject of strategic boards, would the Minister support the view that its membership should include representatives of the criminal justice system, such as police, probation and voluntary organisations, which have a key role in shaping the health needs of local communities?

On a related matter, would the Minister also confirm that the commissioning of specialist services will remain the ultimate responsibility of the national Commissioning Board of the National Health Service? For example, again with reference to Greater Manchester, specialist cancer services delivered at hospitals such as the world-renowned Christie Hospital receive patients regionally, nationally and internationally. So they are not limited to people in Greater Manchester. We must avoid fragmentation and incoherence between Greater Manchester and the rest of the country in respect of specialist services. A view from the Minister on that important point would be welcome.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1668

Further and crucially, without any changes to primary legislation, would the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Health still remains ultimately responsible to the public and Parliament for the health and social care services across Greater Manchester, or any other area that follows the path that Greater Manchester is taking on health and social care?

It would be remiss in this short debate on these probing amendments, particularly Amendment 36D, which exactly repeats the wording of the memorandum of understanding, not to mention funding. Paragraph 11.4 of the MoU, headed “Resources”, states that,

“it is recognised that the identified key workstreams will also require additional funding to support the transformation process. A programme and resourcing plan will be agreed with all parties by 13th March 2015”.

Has that plan been completed and, if so, how much additional funding has been made available to Greater Manchester either through the Better Care Fund, pump-priming money as suggested in the NHS five-year forward plan or, crucially, additional resources directed to the local authorities for social care, which have been decimated by cuts in the 10 districts of Greater Manchester over the past five years? If it has been completed, will it be published to enable public scrutiny of its plans so that there is confidence by the public in what is being proposed?

Finally, to ensure full scrutiny and accountability for the health and social care devolution, would the Minister agree that there must be robust governance structures in place in Greater Manchester—or any other similar area—to ensure full public scrutiny and accountability, particularly of the decisions of the Greater Manchester partnership board? Will the Minister confirm that all recommendations and decisions of the partnership board will be reported to the combined authority and be open to public scrutiny and accountability, and that the oversight and scrutiny committee of the combined authority will also have a robust role in such scrutiny?

Further, a report should be presented to Parliament, as we have suggested in Amendment 36E, so that the rollout of the devolution of health and social care is in place to enable Parliament to properly monitor the outcomes in terms of, among other things, the quality and standards of the delivery of a comprehensive and integrated health service by the combined authority. Our Amendment 36D makes it clear that any transfer of health and social care functions must abide by the four principles laid out in the memorandum of understanding and repeated in the amendment.

Lastly, I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that there is no intention to vary the principles outlined in the memorandum as the devolution of health and social care unfolds. I beg to move.

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendments, which provide us for the first time with an opportunity to discuss the relationship between the Bill and existing NHS legislation. I have degrouped my own amendment on NHS responsibilities for later discussion, because I wish first to hear the Minister’s response to this group of amendments. However, I promise the Minister that I will be returning to this matter on Monday.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1669

I decided on this approach when I heard the Minister’s reply on Monday to my question about where the Health Secretary fitted in to the accountable Ministers in relation to the Bill, given the decision in February to delegate £6 billion a year of the NHS budget to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Her response was that Greater Manchester had agreed a memorandum of understanding with NHS England. That is true, and it may well be a good and sensible thing to do. However, it does not tell us very much about where this leaves the Health Secretary and his many duties and powers under the monster Health and Social Care Act—all 457 pages of it.

The Bill certainly does not make clear what happens when other areas come forward with their own proposals for delegating chunks of the NHS functions and budgets to combined authorities. I have read the current memorandum of understanding, which relates largely to 2015-16 as a build-up year for what will come later. The memorandum leaves a large number of loose ends relating to later years and the relationship of the combined authority with the Health Secretary under existing NHS legislation.

Having said all this, I make it clear that I am a strong supporter of the Bill and its approach to devolution. I very much share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, about it. Unlike many of my colleagues on these Benches, I do not particularly oppose the idea of elected mayors; as a lifelong Londoner, I have experienced the benefits of a mayoralty. This year I also co-authored a policy paper for the think tank Reform entitled Letting Go, which discusses how English devolution could help solve the NHS care and cash crisis. Here I should declare my interests as a member of the advisory council of Reform and an adviser on health and care to the law firm Capsticks.

In the conclusion of our policy paper, my co-author and I went on to say about Greater Manchester:

“For the first time, a large city region has offered a model of healthcare in the UK that focuses on preserving and improving the health of all citizens rather than merely treating them when they are sick. It could provide a step change in health outcomes, particularly for the worst off. If successful in fixing the care model, this innovative approach could help make the NHS more financially sustainable, by controlling the numbers needing expensive acute care”.

This is a very big prize, but why are the Government so shy about putting some of this stuff in the Bill? Those are outcomes that we would all desire. We want them all for most parts of the country from our NHS, so why can we not be upfront and clear in the Bill about where the health and social care stuff—particularly the NHS functions and budgets—sits in relation to this Bill and combined authorities and sort out more precisely than at the moment the relationship between a combined authority and the Health Secretary, not just NHS England?

The key issue is how the Bill interrelates with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. If we want successfully to devolve NHS responsibilities in the way envisaged for Greater Manchester, as I hope we do, does not Parliament have to insert some provisions in this Bill which explain the relationship between those functions and the role of the combined authority and the Health Secretary and his duties and powers in the 2012 Act?

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1670

This House spent months on that Bill and had to have a pause because there was so much difficulty and controversy over that legislation.

Only three years ago, Parliament and the previous Government set the future path for the NHS in a monster of an Act. Now we seem to be going into dark corners, shuffling away, trying to undermine that Act by slipping some functions through something called a memorandum of understanding to a combined authority without being clear where that leaves the Health Secretary and his duties.

I am not normally particularly sympathetic to the Health Secretary or to the problems of the 2012 Act, which was not one of Parliament’s finest hours, but the facts of life are that that is the legislation which governs the way the NHS is run in England now and for the foreseeable future, so trying to slide a set of changes through with combined authorities without being clear in the Bill what is going to happen in relation to the Secretary of State’s powers is a surefire recipe for confusion in the minds of the public, of the NHS and its staff and of the combined authorities.

My key questions to the Minister are: first, what collective discussions have taken place in government on the interrelationship of this Bill to the Health and Social Care Act 2012 when NHS responsibilities, funding and assets are to be devolved to combined authorities? Secondly, will the Minister tell the Committee whether the terms of the agreement with Greater Manchester will be further amended following the passage of this Bill before the Greater Manchester changes go live in 2016-17? Thirdly, what legal advice have the Government had on whether actions could be taken by authorities or the public under the terms of the 2012 Act to overrule the terms of a memorandum of understanding with a combined authority? Fourthly, is the process used with Greater Manchester going to be the way that subsequent transfers of NHS responsibilities to combined authorities will be handled after the passage of the Bill? We need answers to questions of that kind to be certain what is going to happen when the Bill goes on the statute book with relation to any transfer of NHS responsibilities.

In conclusion, I am a supporter of this Bill and of using it to devolve more responsibility from the NHS to local and regional levels, linked to other devolution to combined authorities. I do not want the Government’s proposals in the Bill to fail because insufficient thought has been given to the issues I have raised. We saw what happened with Andrew Lansley’s rushed and ill-thought-through NHS legislation, when its implications were not seriously addressed before Parliament passed it. I remind the Minister that the Prime Minister had to impose a pause on the consideration of that legislation because so much of it was ill considered and undeliverable.

I would very much like to work with the Government on the Bill and try to get it right; this is not a partisan matter. I hope that the Minister will clarify, either today or later in a meeting, how we can progress this issue. In the mean time, I can promise a debate next Monday on a revised version of Amendment 44D that seeks to define how NHS responsibilities can be devolved to combined authorities in a way consistent

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1671

with the 2012 Act. I hope that the Government will accept in principle that something in this area has to be put in the Bill.

9 pm

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, these are very important issues. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bradley and Lord Warner, for all the points they have made, which I hope the Minister will take as constructive criticism. I anticipate that we will have a significant debate—or at least I hope we will—when we reach Amendment 44D on Monday. I simply want to say that Amendments 36D and 36E both have our support. They raise some very important issues and are a practical example of some of the issues we were discussing earlier today such as the NHS and social care, and how that works in practice in an area. This is an example of clarifying what is within scope for devolution to a combined authority and which Ministers have what powers with regard to the devolution of both resources and responsibilities. I will not detain the House any longer on this matter, but I expect that we will return to it when we debate Amendment 44D on Monday.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, although my political interest in social services goes back more than 40 years to the days when I was chairman of the social services committee in Newcastle—the four most productive years in my fairly long political life, which is rather a sad comment on the rest of it—I will confine myself to only one question. I have been a member of the health scrutiny committee in Newcastle since its inception, and I am not clear about the role, which is a statutory role, of the health scrutiny committee in the context of devolution. We will be debating later the question of overview and scrutiny within the combined authority, but I wonder how that will fit alongside what I take will be the continuing statutory responsibility of social services authorities at any rate to have an overview and scrutiny committee to deal specifically with health, well-being and social care.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds (Lab): My Lords, I listened with enormous interest to my noble friends Lord Bradley and Lord Warner, and I thank them for throwing a lot of light on the issues that as a non-specialist had left me puzzled. That is partly the result of the Government’s position that they will not think about anything in advance but will react to what local authorities ask to have, and will only then think about the consequences. This is an extreme example, but easily the best, of the outcome of that. Secondly, there is a lack of any Green Paper, White Paper, any consultation or discussion at length, which would have brought all these issues out. I would not at all be surprised, not at the scale of the health service issues but if the same kind of issues do not arise with regard to some other matters of devolution. Knowing whether the Government think of the issues in advance and are able to convey that to the public, let alone to Parliament, is enormously important. I hope that this debate will lead not merely to further discussions on Monday on the health and social care side but, in due course, to a reflection on other areas, perhaps at a later stage.

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1672

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, as noble Lords have said, Amendments 36D and 36E make specific provision for the transfer of health and social care and NHS responsibilities. It is probably important to say straightaway that the Government share and are committed to the views underpinning the substance of these amendments—namely, that whatever devolution arrangements are entered into in a particular area, health and social care services in that area must remain firmly part of the NHS and social care system, and the position of NHS services in the area in relation to the NHS constitution and mandate cannot change. I hope that that clarifies the position. There can be no question but that, whatever devolution arrangements for health and social care are agreed with an area, all national standards for health services, social care and public health services must, as a minimum, be complied with.

As we have discussed throughout our debates, the context in which the Bill’s powers will be exercised is that of implementing bespoke devolution deals agreed with individual areas and reflecting each area’s proposals and ambitions for devolution. That said, the agreement that Greater Manchester has reached with NHS England illustrates the kind of devolution of health and social care services which areas may be seeking and which the Bill will facilitate.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, asked whether health will be a mayoral function under the new section introduced by Clause 6. The answer is that NHS bodies are seen as public authorities for the purposes of the Bill. The Greater Manchester deal does indeed put health as a function of the combined authority and not of the mayor. However, we would not want to prejudice any other deal. We would want to hear from areas and discuss with them what they want.

Greater Manchester and NHS England have set out their agreement in a memorandum of understanding and there are several underpinning principles to that agreement. First, in the field of health and social care, all decisions about Greater Manchester will be taken with Greater Manchester. The second principle is that Greater Manchester will remain part of the National Health Service and social care system; it will uphold the standards set out in national guidance and will continue to meet statutory requirements and duties, including those of the NHS constitution and mandate.

The third principle is that new models of inclusive governance and decision-making will be created with the intention of enabling the clinical commissioning groups in Greater Manchester, providers, patients, carers and partners to shape the future of Greater Manchester together. It is in creating these new governance arrangements that the powers in the Bill may need to be drawn on, giving to local authorities, together in their combined authority, the powers to participate in the strong, collaborative partnerships that they, NHS commissioners and providers will form to deliver on the principle that all health decisions about Greater Manchester will be taken with Greater Manchester.

Without going into the detail of the Greater Manchester arrangements, I would mention that these governance arrangements will be centred on two bodies—

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1673

noble Lords have already referred to them. The first is the Greater Manchester Strategic Health and Social Care Partnership Board—for short, the GMHSPB. The membership includes the clinical commissioning groups, providers, NHS England and the local authorities. This will prepare and take forward a comprehensive Greater Manchester strategic sustainability plan for health and social care. The second is the Greater Manchester joint commissioning board, comprising the local authorities, the clinical commissioning groups and NHS England. Its role will be to commission Greater Manchester-wide services.

This is a broad, enabling Bill, and I do not believe it is necessary to include in it specific requirements about how particular powers might be devolved. Within the legislative framework that the Bill is creating, the safeguards are to be provided not by making specific provisions but by the requirement that the implementation of any particular devolution deal must be debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. For such debates, it will be important that the full details of the deal concerned, how it was arrived at and the outcomes expected from it will be fully available to Parliament. As I said in the earlier short debate on housing, I am ready to consider whether the standard explanatory memorandums are—

Lord Bradley: I have a question on that point, so as to be absolutely clear. The Minister said that any of those functions will be debated in both Houses. Is she confirming that any proposals around the devolution of health and social care will be subject to scrutiny in both Houses of this Parliament?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Yes, my Lords, I am. They would be done by order, and any orders will be scrutinised through the affirmative process in both Houses of Parliament.

As to reporting on how a deal is proceeding, as I said in one of our debates earlier this week, a process for evaluating the progress on each deal will be discussed and agreed with each area as part of the deal. For example, the Greater Manchester deal has an extensive programme of evaluation, with evaluations being public documents available to all Members of the House, as well as to all with an interest in the area and the progress it is making. But again, I do not believe it is appropriate in our enabling Bill to make a requirement about the reporting or evaluation of some particular aspect of a deal, indeed an aspect that may not be in all the deals that are agreed.

I turn to specific questions that noble Lords have asked. The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, asked whether I would support the view that joint board membership should include representatives of the police, et cetera. In any one place, this will be a matter for the area concerned. In Greater Manchester, for example, it is for those concerned to agree who should be on the joint boards, which will reflect the responsibilities that the combined authority has. He asked the very simple question of whether the Secretary of State for Health will be ultimately responsible to the public for the delivery of health and social care. The answer is yes. He also asked about the Manchester MOU. Greater

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1674

Manchester and all the health bodies concerned, including national bodies such as NHS England, as well as the Greater Manchester clinical commissioning groups, continue to work on the full details of the arrangements that they have agreed.

Lord Warner: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s flow, but I am becoming extremely confused. Twice in her response the Minister has said that all decisions about Greater Manchester will be taken “with” Greater Manchester—in other words, not “by” Greater Manchester. In this last set of responses to my noble friend, she makes it clear that the Secretary of State is responsible for decisions about health in Greater Manchester. What I am struggling with is this: what is the purpose of devolving some of these health responsibilities to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority if the Secretary of State reserves a right to overrule or vet those decisions? I thought that when the Chancellor announced the Greater Manchester project with a great song and dance, a very strong emphasis was given to the ability of local people to take the decisions that affect their area.